Imam Sharif Mohamed never thought his road from war-torn Somalia would lead him to a position as a chaplain resident in Fairview’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, but he has embraced the experience with open arms. “Being the first Muslim Imam in the CPE program has presented many unique challenges, but I am motivated to create more inter-faith understanding in the program,” says Sharif.
After the government collapsed in Somalia, Sharif fled alone as a young man to a refugee camp in Kenya where he continued to follow in the footsteps of his father who was a highly regarded Muslim spiritual advisor. In 1996, Sharif immigrated to the United States near Fargo, ND.
When several Somali elders in Minneapolis learned of Sharif’s arrival in the United States, they persuaded him to move to the Twin Cities to continue his spiritual leadership in the rapidly growing Somali community near Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. A few years later, local Muslim leaders appointed Sharif as Imam, the highest title given to a spiritual leader within their community.
Sharif’s journey to the Clinical Pastoral Education program
In 2013, Sharif attended a community health education forum, hosted by Fairview, to educate Twin Cities Imams about mental health resources available to Somali families. During this community forum the Rev. Deaconess Diane Greve, manager of the Clinical Pastoral Education program, encouraged him to apply for the chaplain residency program at Fairview.
Sharif was accepted to the program as a chaplain intern in January 2014. Soon after, he was selected for a one-year chaplain resident position to study with six other clinical pastoral students representing varying faiths. Part of CPE’s curriculum requires Sharif to study the traditions and practices of other world religions, including Christianity and Judaism. “When we come together for group meetings to discuss our spiritual experiences and rituals, we learn so much from each other. It is an experience I enjoy very much,” says Sharif.
Navigating critical care issues
With the help of his supervisor, Sheryl Lyndes Stowman, and his mentor, Chaplain Mary Martin, Sharif helps patients and families navigate through critical care issues despite language, cultural and religious barriers that may arise. “I am impressed by Sharif’s ability to listen deeply to his patients….He is very respectful of all faith traditions. Sharif is a terrific addition to our Spiritual Health Services staff.” says Mary.
During his rounds at University of Minnesota Medical Center’s medical and surgical units, he recognized early on that many Muslim families weren’t requesting spiritual care during their stay because they didn’t understand the language translation for the words “chaplain request.” He has also been called on to visit aging Muslim patients at Ebenezer care centers. “It was touching to see how dedicated Sharif was in his spiritual care for others…,” says Sheryl. “His wisdom and maturity have been appreciated by those in our program.”
Serving a growing Muslim community
Sharif feels it is important that he help Muslim families interpret the spiritual implications of medical decisions related to life support, transplants, blood transfusions, organ donation, end-of-life care and more. “It is good for Muslim patients to know that we have resources for them like a copy of the Holy Quran or a prayer rug they can keep in their room to have private prayer five times each day. It makes the patients, and their families, know they are welcome during their stay,” says Sharif.
Minnesota is home to approximately 100,000 people of Muslim faith. From 2005 to 2013, the percentage of Muslim and Islamic faith patients in Fairview hospitals increased from 1.9 percent to 2.6 percent. In addition to his efforts at the medical center, Sharif also teaches and counsels followers and families at the Islamic Civic Center, a mosque he helped establish in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in 1998. Following a tragic fire on Jan. 1, 2014, the center is now in a temporary space until funds are raised to reopen the building.
Building cross-cultural understanding
Sharif will be the first Imam in Minnesota to complete a CPE inter-faith chaplain program when he finishes his training in fall 2015. With an additional 2,000 hours of counseling, he will be eligible to apply for national certification from the Association of Professional Chaplains.
“With Sharif’s assistance, we are able to facilitate a better cross-cultural understanding for the spiritual needs of our patients,” says Chuck Ceronsky, director of Pastoral Care at University of Minnesota Medical Center. “He has helped prepare staff and physicians to be more effective when engaging Somali or Muslim families. Sharif is always willing to help.”
Once he completes the program, Sharif would like to continue working as a spiritual ambassador and chaplain at Fairview and use his experience to introduce new healing modalities to the Somali community, including holistic healing, pain management, meditation and guided imagery. “Community outreach and building trust with health care providers is a two-way street in the Somali community,” says Sharif. “I hope to be a bridge for both.”
For more than 50 years, Fairview’s Clinical Pastoral Education program has prepared people from many faith traditions for spiritual health care ministries. For more information about the CPE program, or to support their work with a donation, contact the Rev. Deaconess Diane Greve at 612-273-6457.